January 14, 2003

City and local activists remain at impasse over Promontory Point renovation

The city's motivation for remaining adamantly opposed to the renovation of existing limestone at Promontory Point, a plan that appears to have wide community support, remains unclear.

City officials maintain that the latest report released by coastal engineer Cyril Galvin, favoring the use of limestone at the Point, is not as comprehensive as it appears. Galvin was commissioned by the Promontory Point Community Task Force to reevaluate the city's plans to replace the limestone seawall with a steel and concrete revetment.

"Galvin's report did not address all the needs of that piece of shoreline," said Heidi Kooi, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of the Environment. "For example, it didn't take into account accessibility and we feel his estimated cost of four million dollars is unfeasible. Also, Galvin's report suggests that the present limestone can be used as part of a stable re-construction, and we've learned from example that isn't true."

The city argues that it has no motives other than finding the best solution for the problem and that it has maintained an open relationship with the community. "We've been in communication with the community for years on the situation. The city has followed a public process and we listen to all input," Kooi said.

Yet Galvin and local residents question the city's credibility and its willingness to listen to the views and complaints of community members.

In the transcript of a conversation with longtime Hyde Parkrs, Galvin suggests that the contractors stand to make significantly more money on the concrete construction project because it will be more expensive. Others like Roger Deschner, webmaster for, believe the city's insistence on concrete has something to do with the federal funding allotted to the Point's renovation in 1994. "The city knows that the federal government is covering part of the bill, and the city loves the idea of spending federal money," Deschner said.

Some community members fear that the sort of attitude the city displays toward the Point is becoming more frequent in the handling of all Chicago architecture and real estate. "The evidence that the city uses is often ridiculous, and they don't listen to neighborhood residents. The situation at the Point is not unlike what's happening at Solider Field at the moment, a project that almost everyone in the area believes is ridiculous," said Jack Spicer, member of the executive committee of the Promontory Point Community Task Force. "They are following a dangerous pattern."

Galvin's report harshly criticizes city officials and contractors for their incompetence and possible corruption. The "bluff and bluster" of city representatives, as Galvin calls it, includes lying about the price of the renovation, the accessibility of limestone, the ability to get permits, and a threat of erosion.

"When Mr. Galvin presented the first report, he made it clear that he was interested in the matter at a purely scientific level," Spicer said. "He didn't expect the report to be met so resentfully, and as a result of the city's response the tone of the second paper became very strong."

The report directly contradicts many of the assertions about the Point's reconstruction publicized by the Park District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Chicago Department of the Environment. It claims that a structural engineer admitted in a conference call that the city's $22 million estimate for the limestone repair was only a "knee-jerk reaction."

The report contends that the actual cost of replacing the existing limestone would be closer to $4.5 million, while the city's concrete plan would exceed $16.5 million.

Galvin also challenges the city's claim to have consulted 17 different quarries incapable of filling such a large order of material. An appendix to Galvin's document contains several letters from rock quarries near Chicago willing to provide the limestone for the project, and provides pictures of two separate sites in Indiana filled with large blocks of limestone. In addition, the list of quarries that the city provided for their report contains information that is untrue, according to Jim Owens, executive director of the Indiana Limestone Institute.

"We sent letters to seven quarries: four quarries replied favorably, one quarry said it had the capacity but was not interested at the time, one quarry said it did not have the capacity this time, and one quarry did not reply," the report states.

A peaceful resolution could come in the next few months if the Point gets declared a National Historical Monument. The city currently has a commission investigating this possibility and will prepare a report for the city council sometime in the near future. If such a motion passed, the Point would gain a great deal of protection as well as additional federal funding for its renovation. The report may not see the floor of the city council, however, if the Chicago Park District, which owns the Point, objects. "They are the owners and they have the power," Spicer said.

The Chicago Park District was unavailable for comment.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club is hosting a meeting about the issue of handicap accessibility on January 21. After that meeting, engineers will construct more advanced drawings for the limestone replacement and the issue will enter its final stages.